Desolation Row

The pictures on the telly were truly amazing, horrific, but truly amazing. Not that I sat there and watched them for very long, but just enough to see the looting, the floating dead bodies and so much outright devastation with nobody in charge seeming to give a shit as an entire city was being mislaid right before my eyes. Coming home from work, I’d really not known the true extent of the destruction and the number of people dead until Stephan called me and asked if I’d seen the stuff that CNN was putting out on the air. And after seeing it, I just didn’t get the sense that Bush’s government really was doing anything but sitting and waiting. But waiting for what I don’t know.

Though I do have to admit that while those indelible images were flashing across my television’s screen I found myself reaching back into the murky archives of my brain remembering the times that I’ve had in New Orleans—mostly drunken, drugged out ordeals that always ended with me waking up in some hotel room so hung over that I could barely focus on fixing my morning shot of dope so that I could make it to the bathroom to puke instead of throwing up all over the Gideon bible in the nightstand’s drawer. And then there was the time with the Dead Kennedys when we were all staying at the same motel as Jim Jarmusch, Tom Waits and the rest of the crew as they were filming Down By Law. Two camps of artistes running head on into each other in the lobby at 6am: us on the way in from an all nighter in the clubs on Bourbon Street and them trudging off for an early morning on the set, each of us giving sly glances of minute recognition.

Yet here I am some twenty plus years later and 2300 miles away watching thirty second segments of disoriented folks wading up Canal Street segueing to frenzied looters grabbing clothes out of department store windows while the newscaster intones disapproval like we should be outraged that anarchy has come to the deep south or something! Personally I’d a torn down the prevailing status quo of Louisiana a hundred years ago instead of letting it rot in all its confederate glory, rather than being forced to tolerate the out right racism that permeates every aspect of daily life there. But that’s just me and my idea of democracy. And just maybe that’s why there was no immediate help, because obviously no one cares about impoverished minorities living in a depressed economy. I mean how do you get away with telling a city to evacuate when over 30 percent of its citizens don’t even own an automobile and there’s no plan for providing them transportation? It just don’t make no god damn sense!

And yeah maybe I’m still not that well but all I could think of was being a strung out dope fiend needing a fix after the hurricane hit. Can you imagine the incomprehensible demoralization of struggling through the flooded streets looking for anything to make you feel better and seeing nothing in the form of salvation? Hell, no pharmacy would a been safe had my old self been around, yet here on TV they’re only talking about folks looking for some sort of provisions in a world gone mad after being abandoned by the authorities to fend for themselves!

Meanwhile in the entertainment segment of today’s newspaper I’m getting overwhelmed with glorified glimpses of Burning Man out in the Nevada desert with its million celebrants partying like there’s no tomorrow or no New Orleans either for that matter. Situated right next to the latest movie reviews and the weekend club offerings and on page two of the front section there’s still bits on the war in Iraq. But of course all that pales in comparison as to what’s newsworthy and no, I’m not saying that everyone should just drop whatever it is that they’re doing and let life grind to a standstill because the Crescent City is underwater, but the sense that I’m feeling is that people are thanking god it’s not them or where they live and that’s the extent of it!

A few days ago after surveying the damage from a military helicopter President Bush stood up at a bank of microphones and said that the federal government was doing everything that it could to get the situation under control, however Bush said this from the safety of the Louis Armstrong International Airport, 15 miles away from downtown New Orleans, because the word from the Secret Service was that the situation there was deemed too unsafe for him to actually go into the downtown area, unlike when he made his supposedly heroic megaphone address from the rubble at ground zero on the Friday after September 11th. You all remember: the infamous address that galvanized his “taking a tough stand on terrorism” into massive public support bolstering the media inspired “take charge” Bush image that breathed life into the republican war machine! And so what were we suppose to think now? That the president wasn’t safe in his own country from his own people and that he was safer in New York City after 9/11 when there was supposedly still the threat of further attempts by the terrorists to derail our country’s democracy? Hardly seems feasible now does it?

Though right now I can’t even comprehend any of it and being tired and a bit confused I find myself involuntarily looking up and across the room at my muted television set and on the screen is a shot of a dead and bloated body of a half naked woman floating face down in the flood waters and I’m wondering why I really need to see this. But before I can reflect on it any further the visual feed jumps and now I’m looking at an overpass on US Interstate10 covered with thousands of people stuck waiting for buses and water and food and shelter and…

This morning at an AA meeting in the Haight I’m listening to the writer Alan Kaufman share his life story and then talk about what he’s doing these days to better his existence and the world around him while simultaneously fulfilling his dreams and of course the message was about hope. Like what else are ya gonna get at an AA meeting after all? But in contrast to the blatant acts of ignoring New Orleans like it’s gonna go away or the excessive exploitation that the news media is engaging in, it is a welcome reprieve and a moment for me to get out of my head.

But that’s all it is, a moment, and its not like anything’s really changed because downstairs in my building’s lobby there’s still some uniformed cadets riding shotgun on the security to keep the dreaded crackheads off the premises, while somewhere in one of the other apartments on my floor there’s the unmistakable sounds of combat as two people shout at each other in a drunken fight over love. And down the street just a block away there’s a new encampment of gear-head speed freaks who, at any given time of the day or night, are out in front of their tattered shanties putting together or taking apart their stolen bicycles. And let’s not forget the tribe of winos that converges on the liquor store right before closing time scraping together what ever change they’ve got so that they can buy their last bottle to hold them over until the dawn.

Unfortunately I sincerely doubt that any of these neighbors of mine are even considering what’s going down in New Orleans and the plight of those less unfortunate scrambling to make sense of what’s happening in their lives or even what’s happening across their own town for that matter and that too may be the problem here, with everyone so engrossed in the dilemma of their own making instead of caring about the person next to them!

“And the only sound that’s left
After the ambulances go
Is Cinderella sweeping up
On Desolation Row”

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